A preliminary hazard assessment was developed of the debris-flow potential from 56 drainage basins burned by the Little Bear Fire in south-central New Mexico in June 2012. The Little Bear Fire burned approximately 179 square kilometers (km2) (44,330 acres), including about 143 km2 (35,300 acres) of National Forest System lands of the Lincoln National Forest. Within the Lincoln National Forest, about 72 km2 (17,664 acres) of the White Mountain Wilderness were burned. The burn area also included about 34 km2 (8,500 acres) of private lands. Burn severity was high or moderate on 53 percent of the burn area. The area burned is at risk of substantial postwildfire erosion, such as that caused by debris flows and flash floods.
A postwildfire debris-flow hazard assessment of the area burned by the Little Bear Fire was performed by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Lincoln National Forest. A set of two empirical hazard-assessment models developed by using data from recently burned drainage basins throughout the intermountain Western United States was used to estimate the probability of debris-flow occurrence and volume of debris flows along the burn area drainage network and for selected drainage basins within the burn area. The models incorporate measures of areal burn extent and severity, topography, soils, and storm rainfall intensity to estimate the probability and volume of debris flows following the fire. Relative hazard rankings of postwildfire debris flows were produced by summing the estimated probability and volume ranking to illustrate those areas with the highest potential occurrence of debris flows with the largest volumes.
The probability that a drainage basin could produce debris flows and the volume of a possible debris flow at the basin outlet were estimated for three design storms: (1) a 2-year-recurrence, 30-minute-duration rainfall of 27 millimeters (mm) (a 50 percent chance of occurrence in any given year); (2) a 10-year-recurrence, 30-minute-duration rainfall of 42 mm (a 10 percent chance of occurrence in any given year); and (3) a 25-year-recurrence, 30-minute-duration rainfall of 51 mm (a 4 percent chance of occurrence in any given year). Thirty-nine percent of the 56 drainage basins modeled have a high (greater than 80 percent) probability of debris flows in response to the 2-year design storm; 80 percent of the modeled drainage basins have a high probability of debris flows in response to the 25-year design storm. For debris-flow volume, 7 percent of the modeled drainage basins have an estimated debris-flow volume greater than 100,000 cubic meters (m3) in response to the 2-year design storm; 9 percent of the drainage basins are included in the greater than 100,000 m3 category for both the 10-year and the 25-year design storms. Drainage basins in the greater than 100,000 m3 volume category also received the highest combined hazard ranking.
The maps presented herein may be used to prioritize areas where emergency erosion mitigation or other protective measures may be needed prior to rainstorms within these drainage basins, their outlets, or areas downstream from these drainage basins within the 2- to 3-year period of vulnerability. This work is preliminary and is subject to revision. The assessment herein is provided on the condition that neither the U.S. Geological Survey nor the U.S. Government may be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the assessment.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Postwildfire debris-flow hazard assessment of the area burned by the 2012 Little Bear Fire, south-central New Mexico